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Latest and Most Careful Calculation of His Flight by Balloon Toward the Pole.

By William A. Eddy..
At the last meeting of the Aeronautical Society of London Mr. Percival Spencer, the eminent English aeronaut who recently crossed the English Channel to France and who is the only aeronaut who has experimented with Andrée's system of guiding balloons by means of a drag rope and a sail, read a paper on Andrée's North Pole expedition.

Mr. Spencer's careful estimate of the direction taken by Andrée's balloon is important and new, because he knows from personal experiment to what extent a balloon can be guided by means of a drag rope and a sail, and he announced that the balloon could be veered by the drag rope only to an extent of three degrees, and that it was found impracticable to keep the rope dragging over the ground for more than five percent of the journey. When Andrée's balloon ascended from Dane's Island on July 11, 1897, it was at first depressed toward the water by a gust, causing Andrée and his two assistants to at once throw out ballast, whereupon the balloon cleared the water and sailed away to a height of fifteen hundred feet or more, thus demonstrating the difficulty of keeping the drag rope in guiding contact with the water.

It is evident from these facts that Andrée's power to guide the balloon was so slight as to be dismissed in estimating the course of his flight. But the most important fact of all brought out in this investigation of the drift of the balloon is that the captain of the Windward kept a record of the direction of the wind at Franz Josef Land, six hundred miles eastward of Dane's Island, on the days following the ascension, and found it varying from the southwest to the northwest. Now, the start of the balloon was a little to the east of north, under the impulse of a south-southwest wind. Forty-eight hours after the ascension, at 12:30, noon, the carrier pigeon was sent out by Andrée announcing that the movement of the balloon was rapidly to the eastward, but ten degrees to the south, giving latitude and longitude.

Map of the Arctic with dotted line showing supposed flight of the balloon. Linked to larger version with more extensive description.

Map Illustrating Mr. Spencer's Theory of Andree's Flight.

At the time of sending the pigeon despatch the balloon was about one hundred and fifty miles northeast of the point of departure, having been detained in a belt of calms near a storm centre, and since the wind had veered to the northwest it is probable that the course was southeast, toward the Siberian coast, and with greatly increased velocity, since the northwest wind following a storm centre is a very active one. There is every reason to believe that the balloon passed over Franz Josef Land, which is six hundred miles to the eastward of its starting point, and that the northwest wind carried it to the Siberian coast, a distance of eight hundred miles further. There is a very strong indication that Andrée sent up a pilot balloon as a signal on September 14, 1897, somewhere near the Russian district of Yeniseisk, because the balloon was seen from the space of five minutes by many people in a village.

I find no account of Andrée having supplied himself with a pilot balloon, but he could easily inflate such a small balloon with hot air, made from the material of the larger balloon. In about sixty days, September 14, 1897, the main balloon gas would have been exhausted, and if the main balloon had been inflated it would have called for an amount of combustible material not easily gathered in a woodless country like the Lena Delta, where Melville, of the Jeannette rescue expedition, nearly perished before he encountered natives. A small hot air balloon might be made from part of the main balloon, and sent up by Andrée as a signal, but such a balloon might go sixty miles without giving a very definite idea of its meaning, or of the point from which it ascended.

A definite telegram that the balloon had been found near the Taimyr peninsula, in northern Siberia, was cabled from Russia during this spring. Spencer believes that the rumors and tales emanating from that region indicate that the balloon, or its pilot, has been seen in Siberia. The appearance of the balloon in Siberia indicates that the party may be alive. It must be remembered that the condensed food carried by Andrée, together with that procurable by hunting and fishing, would last the party two years, and that without game and fishing they would have a store of food lasting nine months, as announced by their supply agent. It is quite probable that the Andrée expedition will be heard from in the Lena Delta, and far to the eastward of the point where the rumors of the finding of a wrecked balloon and some bodies was telegraphed.

The shortness of the time during which the balloon was visible to the villagers indicated a hot air balloon, the inflation of which was exhausted by the burning out of the fire. Such a balloon, well inflated, might move several hundred miles under a strong wind, since the upper air currents may have had and usually do have, great velocity. The persistent rumors regarding a balloon coming from the region near the Taimyr peninsula indicate that it was seen. The report was as follows:--

"On September 14, 1897, at eleven P.M., the people in the village of Antzhivoskoje, which is in the district of Yeniseisk, saw the Andrée balloon for the space of five minutes."

If this had read "July 14, at eleven P.M.," we would then know it was Andrée's balloon beyond a doubt, because the carrier pigeon report would account for its presence on the day following the 13th

Mr. Spencer believes that the September date is that of the arrival of the news at the Russian frontier, about two months later. The September date, however, has been cabled to all parts of the world, and I see no reason to doubt it: I believe it was a special pilot signal balloon sent up by Andrée, whose fate will soon be decided. The authenticity of these reports has never been denied or confirmed.

Reproduced with permission: L.L. Dyche, Explorations (Newspaper Clippings Related to Polar Exploration), Vol. 1 & 2. University Archives, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries, Lawrence, KS.


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Original Source:

New York Herald, New York, NY. May 21, 1899

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Patrick Harper
University of Kansas

Graphics digitized by:
Patrick Harper
University of Kansas.

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